Emeril’s Wonton Soup

Okay, so he isn’t exactly a paragon of Chinese cuisine, but he generally has a pretty good head for foodstuffs, and he’s about as close to New Orlean’s own as a yank can get.   I didn’t really plan on making an Emeril recipe, it was just the first one we found that made a lick of damn sense. Oyster sauce and a packet of onion soup mix? Eff you Sandra Lee.

This was a very pleasant surprise and soundly outdid our favorite local place.  It isn’t rocket science, but it is a good bit time consuming what with all the folding and wrapping.  We moved quicker towards the end but 36 wontons still took some doing.  Heather helped a bunch, folded most of the ‘tons and mixed up the stuffing.

The only mod I made was adding a quarter tsp of cayenne to the oil at the beginning and about two tsp soy sauce at the end, also cayenne in the stuffing for lack of pepper flakes.  Oh, also we used turkey instead of pork.  I know I know, but it totally works here  I promise.

Heather and I have been on a health kick lately (hence the lack of posts) and the fast wet cooking makes for happy poultry, even something as lean as turkey.  The single egg-yolk goes a long way for that creamy goodness and the flavor of the garlic, onions, and ginger dominates.

As for rolling the dough, we found a couple different suggestions but settled on what I thought looked like little tri-corner hats.  Wet two edges, fold in half to make an isosceles, then bring all the points together up top and squeeze.  They were quick and easy, plus the dough gets so wrinkly when it cooks, too much effort would just yield weird wrinkly balls of a slightly different shape.  The only thing you have to worry about is getting the air out when you half it.  Any bubbles you leave behind will swell up and break your seal making for a loose waterlogged dumpling.

Garlic Naan

This is a fabulous flat-bread from well, Asia.  Yes, darned near all of Asia.  I’ve had pretty narrow variations all the way from Bhrain to Japan, though most Americans will recognize this as a common Indian bread course.  This recipe in particular is derived from a tiny little DC Indian restaurant Keely brought me to about a year ago.  The green pesto was the really unusual bit and the hardest to figure out, though I think I am pretty close.  Its a standard leavened bread but cooked in an unusual way.  Ideally, it would be stuck to the sides of a round brick oven called a tandoor, but you can make a pretty good approximation with clay tiles.

If you haven’t already gotten tiles or a pizza stone, go to a home improvement store. The flooring department should stock a product called unglazed quarry tile. It will cost on the order of 97cents a square foot and last longer than your stove, it will work miracles on all of your baked goods, especially pizza and other flatbreads like this one.  I used four of em though my oven can fit six on a good day.

Anyway, start by proofing 1 pkg dry yeast (2.25 tsp)  in 1 cup warm water cooler than 170F(any hotter genocides your yeast).  Once it froths up, add 1/4 cup sugar, tbsp kosher salt, 3tbsp milk.  Mix in enough bread flour to make a wet dough(4 cups-ish) and beat in one large egg.  Knead six to eight minutes until you can poke the dough and it comes back.  The kitchen-aid is nice for this step, but you can do it by hand as well.  Oil it, cover it, and let it rise for an hour while you work on the aromatics.

This part starts with garlic, lots of garlic, two full heads of garlic.  And two bushels of Italian flat-leaf parsley

Break out the cloves and smack them with the sides of your knife to peel them.  If you place your chef’s knife on the garlic with the blade angled slightly down, you can just tap it with your opposite palm and the garlic will disrobe faster than a spring breaker with a jagar bomb.  Just please be careful.  In college, I was unlucky enough to watch a young man embedded an eight-inch chef’s knife in his palm in a similar maneuver trying to force the wrong side of a knife through some tough root vegetables.  That being said, I’ve never known anyone to get hurt peeling garlic in this way, just keep a healthy respect for your blade, especially when your squishy parts are hurtling towards it.

Give it a rough chop and set aside in a bowl.  Toss with about a tbsp of olive oil to prevent oxidation.  Next, grab a healthy bushel of parsley or cilantro.  I’m pretty sure the recipe I’m hunting for was cilantro, but the old lady has an aversion to it, so I try to steer clear.  I used an Italian flat-leaf so it would integrate better with the bread.

Remove most of the stems and give them a rough chop.  Stir in with the garlic and set aside.  Take the other bushel, once again remove most of the stems but don’t worry about pulling the leaves off the stalk.  Shove them in the blender with 2 tsp salt, 2tbsp olive oil, and 2 tsp of your garlic mix.  Pulse and mash it down until the mix is pretty well pureed.  You may need to add olive oil to work it all together.  Add more of your garlic mix to taste.  It should be pretty darned tasty but kinda hollow, starting with the fruitiness of the olive oil and finishing with a grassy herby parsley piqued with some garlic and a flavor void in the middle.  Don’t worry, ziplock it and set it in the fridge while we round out the naan, it will mingle.  The oil needs to pull out the fat-soluble components of both like an infusion on methamphetamine(you know cause of the blender and the small particles… it goes crazy fast) and it makes for one heck of a sauce.

Kill some time until the first rise is over, dump your garlic-herb mix into the dough and knead it.  Again, the kitchen-aid with a dough hook comes in handy.

Its like a tornado of flavor.  Once again, oil it a bit more, cover it and let the yeasties work  their magic.  Kill about fifteen minutes then cut the stove to 400F with a couple quarry tiles laid out on one of the racks.  It does technically work on multiple racks at once, but they cook so fast it’s not worth bothering with.  Again, kill about half an hour then break off chunks slightly larger than a golf-ball.  Flour your hands and board enough to spread them to about an eighth of an inch thick, then let them rest for a few minutes.

When the oven is good and hot, stretch the dough one final time until it is almost transparent and stick it straight on the stones.  Now wait anywhere from three to nine minutes.  No really.  There are a lot of variables here, moistness of your dough, thickness of your naan, relative humidity, altitude, oven calibration and the tiny fire gnomes that live in the burners.  You’ll get a feel for it eventually.  To start with, you want to look for any browning, either from the oven or up through from the stones.  If you see brown on top, you’re prolly done.

Those tiles have served me well for about seven years now.


Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis

Okay, you see that little white thing over there on the plate.  It might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it is friggin magic.  Pure unadulterated italian creamy goodness.  It’s cheap, simple, unique and amazingly tasty.  If you take nothing else from these recipes so far, make this.  Like a lot.

From the northern parts of Italy, this desert is literally translated as cooked cream.  It is a gelatinized cream cooked with sugar and vanilla bean.  It holds up like a delicate custard and almost makes you wonder why ice cream exists.

Since vanilla feature so prominently in this recipe, it really got me thinking about the beans.  I had always preferred the extracts from Mexico but didn’t really appreciate why, I kinda figured it was a secondary process like pasteurization or the base alcohols.  (The FDA ruins everything)  This time the culprit was not ill-founded food paranoia, but a pointed difference in country of origin.   The first fancy-pants store I went to only stocked the Moroccan(aka Bourbon) beans.  At ten dollars a piece, I started looking for a less-premium bean, and/or mail-order.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Mexican beans were in stock at the local mega-lo mart for half the price.  Having now made it with both, I definitely prefer the Mexican bean.

Lest you figure that the mexican bean is the go-bots of the transformers universe, the god-awful (800%) markup was just a little eff you from the fancy-pants store.  The online prices are fairly close and actually favor the mexican bean.  Anyway, if you have the choice, the Bourbon Beans are creamy and oddly sweet, almost molasses-y.  While the mexican beans have a great earthy spice about them, sort-of cinamon-like.  Supposedly the Tahitian beans impart a cherry-like fruitiness but nothing I can attest to.  I think the joy of this dish is matching the creamy richness of the custard with the tartness of the coulis, bringing tart into the panna cotta seems like it would mess with the balance.

Split your vanilla bean in half down the center by grabbing the stem  and placing the point of your knife through the stem end facing away from your hand and pulling on the bean.  Don’t worry if you come out the side.  The point is that you want to get the seeds out of the bean and into the cream.  You also want to expose as much of the pod as possible.  Now, drag your knife blade perpendicular to the pod removing the seeds.  Press hard enough to flatten the cut edges, but not hard enough to remove any of the pod.  If you look closely at the top of the upper photo, you can see some little brown flecks next to the black specks.  That is what happens when you push too hard.  It doesn’t wreck anything, but it looks a bit off.  Mix the seeds and the pod in with a pint of cream and three quarters of a cup of sugar on the stove over medium heat  add just a tiny pinch of salt.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle one packet of gelatin over a half cup of milk .  It will form  skin and get all wrinkly.  This is  awesome.  When you are done poking at it, or about five minutes have passed, add a half cup warmed cream to  the mix and whisk to combine.  Add  the mixture to the sauce pan and cook while stirring for a minute.  The gelatin should be completely dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool five minutes.  Pour into a spouted vessel through a strainer.  The strainer will not only fish out the vanilla pod, but fix any weirdness the gelatin might have going on.  Deposit into small serving cups(disposable shot glasses work well) and cool at least three hours.

Now for  the coulis!  Take a non-stick pan and rough chop about five large strawberries into it.  Turn it to medium heat and add 2 tbsp good balsamic.  If you don’t have a good balsamic, use a dry red wine, you want that tart salivary pucker.  As for balsamic, life is too short to get the rough stuff.  You might have to look for it, but if you can find it 20 years old or better, you will be rewarded with one of the most delicious substances known to man  thick, oakey, smokey, sweet, and a depth of flavor that is just unmatched.  Olive oil and good balsamic  with a rustic loaf is still my number-one meal, but I digress.  Cover it with sugar to taste  (about 2tbsp) and bring to temperature.  Once the strawberries have broken down, force them through the strainer with the back of a spoon and set aside.  Serve warm, strawberries have an inordinate amount of Pectin and it will jelly itself near room-temperature.

Seriously though.  Make this. Do it tomorrow if you don’t have any cream in the fridge right now. Oh, if the pannacotta doesn’t want to come out of the molds, you can try dipping them in warm water for about three seconds to loosen the edges.  Also, if you used plastic containers, use a very sharp knife to put a tiny air hole in the top.  This has the added benefit of creating a nifty schlorping sound.

Aglio e Olio

Not exactly rocket science, but absolutely fantastic.  This is reverse engineered from a dish at a Slidell restaurant called Assunta’s, literally just garlic and olive oil, it amounts to fried slivers of garlic and the infused oil over pasta.  The garlic crisps up almost like bacon and imparts a smokey sweet crunch that is just amazing.

The secret to this dish, if there were a secret at all is slicing the garlic consistently.  Garlic has a narrow window of doneness, by the time a thick piece crisps, a thin piece can burn.  I used a mandolin, but wound up loosing a good bit of the garlic out of fear for my fingertips.  Restaurant supply shops generally sell garlic and/or truffle slicers that should work better.  Hand slicing is an option, but terribly slow.

The rest of the dish is just a basil chiffonade and Parmesan cheese over pasta.

To make a chiffonade, take about ten leaves of basil and roll it up like you would a sleeping bag, rolling from one side to the next.  Once it is rolled, slice across the roll into thin long strips.  You can then give it a rough chop to finish it up.  The sharper the knife the better, a dull knife will damage the edges and lead to premature browning.  I didn’t think to photograph the process at the time, but here is the beautiful rinsed basil from my garden.  I wouldn’t use dry herbage in this recipe, if you don’t have it fresh, just leave it off.

The garlic should be thin enough to be almost transparent.  Elephant garlic is easier to work with because of it’s bigger cloves and is more forgiving of overcooking, though any garlic would work.  As soon as it was cut I put the garlic into about a quarter cup of cold olive oil.  The volatile oils in the garlic oxidize very quickly so nip this in the bud.  When infusing anything, always start cold and bring it to temperature.  It has a more marked effect on water soluble compounds, but you will notice the difference here as well. Cook over medium until the garlic turns a golden brown.  Remove from the oil to cool.  A while back I made the mistake of leaving the garlic in the oil off of the heat because the pasta wasn’t quite ready.  The carryover heat from the oil burned the heck out of the garlic and gave everyone a terrible case of bitter beer face, definitely definitely remove the garlic unless the pasta is ready and waiting.


AKA Crazy French Cheesy puffs of awesome.  This is my first attempt at a  pate a choux dough and was inspired by both a recent post on cooking for assholes and an abundance of cheese that was nearing it’s expiration.  I used a jack and colby mix though it seems fairly unimportant what cheese(s) you use, Gruyere seems to be the most traditional.  It is an interesting dough, it doesn’t use any traditional leavening, instead relying exclusively on a high moisture content to produce steam and the timely denaturation of the egg proteins to hold the structure when that steam has escaped.  The final product is amazingly light, crispy on the outside with large steamy cheesy pockets in a croissant-like dough.  The only problem seems to be that they don’t age well.  Once they cool, they begin to stale very quickly.  Supposedly you can freeze and reheat them, but they didn’t last anywhere near that long around here.

Shaved about an eighth of a nutmeg into a pan and add a pinch of salt and a tsp of black pepper, half a tsp of cayenne if you prefer.  Add a stick of butter and melt.  Add a cup of cold milk and return to a simmer.  Then add a cup of flour and stir until until the lumps are gone and it pulls away from the sides of the pan.  It should have the consistency of play-dough.  If not, add more flour or milk to get the right consistency.

The dough should be pretty pale at this point, remove it from the pan and set in the kitchen aid with the paddle attachment.  You could certainly do this by hand, but the machine makes quick work of it.  If the dough feels too hot to handle, beat it for a few minutes on medium incorporating some cold air.  You want it warm but not hot, too hot will cook the eggs on contact and give you lumps of scrambled eggs, which would probably be bad.  Add four eggs, fully incorporating each one before adding the next.

The dough should get a healthy sheen to it and turn custardy yellow.  If you aren’t completely freaked out by raw eggs, you can taste it at this point and adjust your seasonings.  It should taste kinda like an unusually thick quiche-flavored gravy (which is another blog entry entirely).  Add a healthy cup of your desired cheese.  Mix just enough to incorporate and spoon or pipe 2tbsp balls onto a parchment lined sheet pans.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.  It is best if you can check for browning without opening the oven door.  Cooling the pastry at all before it is done cooking will make it fall.


Thumbprint Shortbread Cookies

These fruit topped cookies are easily one of my all-time favorites.  There is a great balance of crisp buttery richness and fruity chewy tartness. They are cheap and easy though a bit time consuming with all the dimpling and such.  I made an unusually large batch for an office party that resulted in about an hour of scooping, rolling and shaping.  Totally worth it though, I never figured baking  jam could come out so well.  These are based loosely around an allrecipes.com thumbprint and are more or less a standard shortbread with some strawberry  preserves baked into the top and sprinkled with sanding sugar.

Ingredients: 2 cup flour, 1 cup butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp almond extract.  Cream the sugar, add the extract, then flour. Make two inch rounds and dimple the middle.  There is a fairly narrow temperature range for easy shaping.  Too warm and they will be sticky, too cold and they will crack.  If you notice it sticking to your hands as you work, just place the dough in the freezer for  few minutes.  I prefer about two inch rounds.  You don’t have to give them much space to expand, they will flatten a bit but not rise at all. Spoon in a bit of the preserves and make sure the sides of the dimple are large enough to contain all of the preserves when they melt in the oven.  Sprinkle the sanding sugar and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool for about five minutes on the tray before you try to remove them, hot shortbread can be very fragile.

Garlic Lemon Sous Vide Proof of Concept

Like a good scientist, I decided to start out the sous vide experiment with a proof of concept.  Most of the Sous Vide reviews extolled the virtues of both cooking cheap beef to tenderness and chicken to pasteurization without overcooking.  Since the process required regular monitoring, I decided not to attempt the 24 hours of beef and opted for the more approachable 70 minute poultry process.   The general consensus online was 140F for a bit over an hour.

Besides the fact that sous vide “amplifies the cooking liquid”, I didn’t have much to go on for flavor guidance.  I decided to try out garlic lemon chicken for no reason in particular.  I roasted a head of garlic in the toaster oven.  Coated them in olive oil and baked at 350 for about a half hour or so.  Not that you’ve never seen roasted garlic before, but it’s just so dang pretty.  Whenever I cook with roasted garlic, I tend to under-cook it a bit, letting the final application finish it up so it isn’t total mush on the plate.  Unfortunately the low and slow process of sous-vide didn’t change the flavor profile at all and it came out rather bitter.  If I had it to do again, I would have added some cooking time to roasting the garlic for more sweetness.  I definitely wouldn’t recommend  raw garlic in this application, unless you…and everyone around you for the next hour or three are really into that sort of thing.

I zested two lemons and diced the garlic, rubbed it on the chicken with some salt and pepper before bagging it.  Once again, the lemon zest reacted strangely to the process, the bright acidity mellowing out considerably and the zest taking on a squooshy marmalade texture.  Not bad, but not great.   The chicken was generic mega-mart fare, it had been brined to increase weight, frozen to increase shelf-life and fed a diet so bland it narely resembled anything that used to be alive.  But it was handy and cheap and made a pretty good flavor sponge.

Perhaps dried lemon zest would have fared better, maybe also using some of the juice from the lemons.  As for the sides, I made some jasmine rice with a garam masalla and pine nuts.  Bit of olive oil to cover roughly 2tsp of spice, heat the spices until the house smells awesome, then add 3 cups cold water and bring to a boil.  Add about a cup and a half of long jasmine rice and 8oz pine nuts. Pack it into a clean cup measure and drop it onto the plate for that fun fancy-pants molded look.

Finally, an old New Orleans standby, the Spinach Madeline.  Okay, so there isn’t exactly a cohesive theme here, but it’s all good and it just works.  Call it a Palak Paneer if you want to keep the Indian thing going, but it really is a truly cajun flavor profile.  This dish is inordinately good for the simplicity and the price of it all.  Start with 12oz of trinity(onion, bell pepper, celery) frozen works well since you are sauteing it anyway and it saves on the tears.  Add 2 tsp granulated garlic, 1tsp cayenne, and Tony’s to salt.  Saute in half a stick of butter or olive oil.  When the veggies start to caramelize and get a bit sweet, add enough flour, on the order of a tablespoon, to completely dry up whatever oil is left. Deglaze with buttermilk.  Add 16oz frozen spinach and warm throughout.  If the dish is too thick, add more buttermilk.  When it is warm, finish with 1 cup of shredded mozzarella.  Add 1 cup more cheese for the best spinach dip ever.